Fear of Falling
PDF EBook by Barbara Ehrenreich
EBook Descriptionp. Fear of Falling PDF EBook31The only people to clearly act on their revulsion against mass culture were the Beats—men , for the most part, who had dropped out of college or various undistinguished occupations to live in barren apartments and devote themselves to poetry, good fellowship, and the search for ecstatic insight.The Beats were the true radicals of the 50s, not in any conventional political sense but for the depth of their critique of America’s desperate materialism.Here at last were a group of rebels who dared refuse “the general demand that they consume production and therefore have to work for the privilege of consuming, all that crap they didn’t really want anyway such as refrigerators, TV sets, cars, at least fancy new cars, everyone imprisoned in a system of work, produce, consume, work, produce, consume.”
p.36 Historian David M. Potter observed with alarm that in 1951, the amount spent on advertising was $199 per American family, compared to $152 per family for public education.“Certainly it marks a profound social change that such vast expenditures should be directed not to the inculcation of beliefs or attitudes that are held to be of social value, but rather to the stimulation or even exploitation of materialistic drives and emulative anxieties.”
p. 83 The barriers the middle class erected to protect itself make it painfully difficult to reproduce itself.It is one thing to have children, another to have children who will be disciplined enough to devote the first twenty or thirty years of their lives to scaling the educational obstacles to a middle- PDFclass career.Nor is there any obvious, reliable way the older generation can help.All that parents can do is attempt, through careful molding and psychological pressure, to predispose each child to retrace the same long road they themselves once took.Hence the perennial middle-class preoccupation with the problems of childraising.
p. 133 the professions took shape in the period from roughly 1870-1920.
p. 225 young, educated, middle-class people in 70s tended “to prefer products that are functional, healthy, nonpolluting, durable, repairable, recyclable or made from renewable raw materials, energy-cheap, authentic, aesthetically pleasing, and made through simple technology.
p. 205 in 1984 a family needed an income of approx $37,000 to afford a median-priced home, but in the same year the median family income was only $26,167 (National Assoc of Homebuilders).Middle-level income no longer guaranteed such perquisites of middle-class status as home ownership.
p.208 while in the 80s the poor were increasingly to be avoided for safety’s sake, the rich presented a different kind of threat to people in the middle: bidding up the cost of real estate to astronomical values and uncomplainingly accepting college tuitions in the range of $20,000 a year.
p.226Voluntary simplicity echoes the “simplicity movement” of the emerging middle class in the Progressive Era.Both movements sought a way to express middle-class political aspirations in the form of personal behavior, or, in seventies terminology, “lifestyle.”In the early twentieth century, middle-class simplicity had meant fewer and plainer items of furniture, looser clothes, and lighter meals.In the 1970s, the trend was to minimalist (or high-tech) dé download; cor, blue cotton work shirts, “health foods,” and a horror of strong drink and cigarette smoke.Both movements embodied a principled rejection of the endlessly wasteful, endlessly seductive, capitalist consumer culture.And both movements ended by trivializing that rejection as a new set of consumer options: in the 70s natural fiber over polyester, whole-grain bread over white, plain oak furniture over high-gloss department store maple.
p.228 in the 80s the mass market disappeared and was replaced by two markets, the “upscale” and “downscale.”The change reflected the growing middle-class zeal to distinguish itself from the less fortunate, and at the same time it made such distinctions almost mandatory for anyone hoping to inhabit the social and occupational world of the successful and “upscale.”
P.260 Professions, as opposed to job, are understood to offer some measure of intrinsic satisfaction, some linkage of science and service, intellect and conscience, autonomy and responsibility.No one has such expectations of a mere job; and it is this, as much as anything, which defines the middle-class advantage over the working-class majority.The working class must work—often at uncomfortable or repetitive tasks—for money, and find its pleasures elsewhere.
p. 261 John Kenneth Galbraith observed, “ For some, and probably a majority, work remains a stint to be performed…For others work, as it continues to be called, is an entirely different matter.It is taken for granted that it will be enjoyable.”Work, of the special kind that it reserves to itself, is the secret hedonism of the middle class.And, although we seldom think of it this way, the pleasure of work is the middle class’s tacit rebuttal to capitalism, a pleasure that cannot be commodified or marketed, that need not obsolesce or wane with time.
It is the pleasure of work that is most easily lost in the scramble to get ahead, or simply to stay in place in our recklessly polarizing society.Galbraith’s comment provides a measure of the loss that has already been incurred.In 1958 he could fairly observe that a professional would be “insulted” and “disturbed” if it were thought that “his principal motivation in life is the pay he receives.”Today, as the more rewarding professions (medicine, for example, and science and teaching) are abandoned for more lucrative careers, few would find such a motivation dishonorable.Even within the more rewarding professions, the traditional perquisites—autonomy, creativity, and service—are easily traded off in favor of greater income.
The more we abandon the ethos of professionalism—and its secret pleasure principle—the more we are dependent on the commodified pleasures of the market.The would-be regional planner turned corporate lawyer, the would-be social worker turned banker, must compensate for abandoned dreams with spending.The costs of heightened consumption demand still longer hours of empty labor—which must, in turn, be compensated with more consumption.Hence the addictive frenzy of the “yuppie strategy”.Hence, too, one more source of momentum for the forces of polarization and deepening class inequality.
But even for the middle class, the way out does not lie through a simple revival of professionalism.The elitism of the professions—with their steep and often arbitrary barriers of education and licensing—hurts not only the excluded members of the lower classes, but those who are, by birth, most likely to be included.This is the catch in the strategy of professionalism and the source of so much middle-class anxiety: the barriers erected to exclude intruders from other classes also stand in the way of the youth of the middle class.The barriers ensure that only the hardworking, the self-denying, will make it—and not even all of them.Hence the fear of hedonism, of growing soft, and ultimately, falling.Hard work and self-denial become our punitive “values”—setting us against all those who have not yet made it (the young, the poor) and even against our own desires.
But if we start with what needs to be done, we can see that the middle class’s anxious sense of scarcity is in no small part self-imposed.There is potentially no limit to the demand for skilled, creative, and caring people, no limit to the problems to be solved, the needs to be met by human craft and agency.The mentality of scarcity may be appropriate to the realm of consumer goods—for the obvious reasons of fairness and ecology—but it has no place in the realm of conscious, responsible, effort and achievement.
In an egalitarian future, there would be enough work to go around, and work pleasurable enough so that all will want it.This is not a matter of “lowering standards,” but of opening doors: removing artificial barriers and expanding educational opportunity to all comers.In the process, education itself must change, abandoning its restrictive biases (by race and sex as well as class), downplaying competition.The long process of growing up an dpreparing for an adult occupational role need no longer be an exercise in “deferring gratification.” “Permissiveness” would cease to be a threat and an excuse for class injustice.For growing numbers of people from all backgrounds, the path of self-indulgence would lead straight on from the pleasure of learning to the joy of chosen work.
At the point where education becomes the free exercise of mind, it would inevitably cease to be the mechanism of class reproduction.It would be too exuberant, too playful, to remain in quiet service to social inequality.Everyone would want it; the barriers erected to keep out the “others” would tumble, and the hungry of all ages would swarm in.
This, very simply, should be the program of the professional middle class and the agenda it brings to any broader movement for equality and social justice: to expand the class, welcoming everyone, until there remains no other class.
Like this book? Read online this: Plan B for the Middle Class, Falling by Design (Falling, #1).
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